A six section horizontal ladder in the Western Cwm. We decided to walk 15 minutes extra in order to avoid crossing it.
Text and photographs by Dave Hahn, a guide for RMI Expeditions and First Ascent. In May 2010 Hahn reached the summit of Mount Everest for the 12th time, the most of any a non-Sherpa climber. This time, he is leading a Bill McGahan and his 16-year-old daughter, Sara, on a bid for the summit. Follow the team's Everest expedition in dispatches here.
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Five days ago we tried getting up through the Khumbu Icefall, but instead dropped down to Base Camp again to wait a day. We weren't firing on all cylinders, and it was clear that the jet stream was. The wind made a cardboard tearing sound as it scraped across the high peaks.
Four days ago we got up without a great deal of difficulty, reaching Camp I in about five hours from base camp. The climbers we talked to told stories of big winds at Camps I and II doing all sorts of tent damage and rubbing a bunch of nerves raw. We hoped we'd missed the big wind event as we crawled into our tents for afternoon naps … but we could still hear it howling above and as the hours went by it got a little noisier right down in our own neighborhood. Spirits were high though as the four of us piled into one tent for dinner and climbing stories.
RMI Camp I with Lingtren (on left) and Khumbutse behind
That first night was not a good one for relaxing, as it turned out. We guessed that the tents were getting rocked by gusts in the 50 to 70 mph range throughout the night. Linden and I instinctively put our feet up against the tent walls to brace for the bigger blasts and we hoped that the extra careful anchoring job we'd done was working for Bill and Sara in their tent two feet away. The wind quit on us at 4 a.m. precisely and the alarm clock rang at 5.
That first full day in the Western Cwm was meant to be mostly a rest day with an easy morning hike partway up the valley. That didn't seem restful at 5 a.m., but Linden and I lit the stoves anyway and started melting ice, figuring a little coffee couldn't hurt the mood. We took our time and ate and drank for hours while gearing up and waiting for the sun to get a little closer to the valley floor. The sun has to work pretty hard at that in the Cwm as the walls rise to 25,000 feet (not counting Everest and Lhotse) but by 8 a.m. when we started walking in down coats, there was a hint of warmth in all the brightness.
Linden, Bill, Sara working a ladder
We strolled in our crampons up under the ridiculously steep Nuptse Wall and then crossed a series of easy crevasse bridges. We came to a crazy and crooked collection of six or seven ladders tied together, spanning a deep crevasse. There was a perfectly good detour trail which would avoid the high-wire acrobatics at the cost of about 20 minutes and we happily went detouring.
Our friend Neil Beidelman, extreme skiing in the Western Cwm
Linden and Bill heading back down to Camp I
A bit farther up the valley and we came to the last crevasse… Our goal for the day. We took a short rest at this halfway point to Camp II and then reversed course, heading back for much-needed naps at Camp I. That second night was blissfully quiet and calm and so when the alarm rang at 5, once again, we were a bit more ready for action. We set out walking in the shadows at 7 a.m. bound for Advanced Base Camp. Eventually, when we'd passed all the crevasses again, it got hot as the sun got bouncing off a billion tons of ice and snow, but we took a few rest breaks and kept on trudging to CII. When we reached the rocky moraine the angle steepened and things got tough, but my team was tough, too. We strolled into the construction site where Lam Babu and Uberaz (our ABC cook) were working hard at the beginnings of a fine camp.
Finding the perfect birthday gift for Bill… Linden chops out a 1973 oxygen bottle.
It seemed a good occasion for myself, Linden and Sara to sing happy birthday to Bill and to shake his hand. We sat drinking tea for a few minutes and gazing up at the Lhotse Face. It was icy and intimidating, but the good news was that we could see great progress being made by the "fixing team" assigned to string rope and fashion anchors on the face. This was a team made up of strong Sherpas from a number of expeditions. Our team's contribution toward the effort, apart from money, had been Cherring, Kaji, and Dawa carrying a few big loads of rope up from base to ABC.
At midday we began walking down valley again, keeping an eye out for a ladder-crossing black dog whose tracks we'd seen all day long. Early in the day, I'd spied him trotting through Camp I wagging his tail after completing the Icefall, but we didn't see anything but tracks up at ABC. We did meet plenty of friends out on the trail as we headed down for our Camp I with our mission for Rotation I largely accomplished. Our final night in the Cwm was quiet and a little snowy. It still was snowing lightly as we packed up in the morning and got set for a careful trip down through the Icefall. Down to comfy chairs and showers and the basecamp good life.
Mark Tucker was elated to see us again…. In fact, we all felt a little guilty leaving him alone with the kitchen staff for four days…. But he seemed to have muddled through.